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MERC Al-Attiyah and Bernacchini lead after six stages of Qatar Rally

Qatar International Rally
2013 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, round 1

For immediate release
Friday, January 25th, 2013

AL-ATTIYAH AND BERNACCHINI LEAD AFTER
DAY ONE OF QATAR INTERNATIONAL RALLY

· Al-Qassimi in second after six stages; Al-Kuwari takes third place
· Junior Al-Mutawaa tops 2WD; Group N lead for Abdullah Al-Kuwari
· Saudi’s Al-Rajhi damages front suspension and loses early lead

DOHA (Qatar): Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah and Italian co-driver Giovanni Bernacchini led a nail-biting 2013 Qatar International Rally, the opening round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship, by just 4.8 seconds after six new timed special stages to the west of Doha on Friday.

Driving a Ford Fiesta RRC, the Qatari had been involved in a frantic tussle with Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi (Citroën DS3) and British navigator Scott Martin over the rocky desert stages and mere seconds had separated the pair all day. The defending regional champion, who is bidding for his 10th Qatar Rally win, eventually finished the day with three stage wins and a tiny overnight lead.

“Today was not a day to push too much,” said Al-Attiyah. “The new stages here were very hard on the cars. Tomorrow they are smoother and we can go faster. But it is not easy.”

Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al-Rajhi made his traditional flying start, but a little over exuberance on the crucial third stage cost him the lead and his place in the rally. Al-Qassimi and Al-Attiyah took up the fight thereafter, with Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Khalid Al-Suwaidi trailing in their wake in a pair of Ford Fiestas.

The Qatari duo reached the overnight halt in third and fourth places. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi held fifth after Jordan’s Alaa Rasheed was forced out in the fifth stage.

Rookie Emirati Mohamed Al-Mutawaa led the new two-wheel drive category in his R3 Citroën DS3 and Qatar’s Abdullah Al-Kuwari held the initiative at halfway in the hotly contested Group N section with his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X.

Young Abu Dhabi junior driver Mohamed Al-Sahlawi ran out of spare tyres on his debut and was forced into SupeRally on Saturday, as puncture-related incidents decimated the original 18-car field. Only 11 cars reached the finish.

Day 1 – as it happened

Al-Attiyah led 17 rivals into the new 21.81km Al-Shabhana stage for the first time. Tactics would come into play from the outset and all eyes were on whether the Qatari and his closest rivals would push hard to try and take the early advantage.

The nine-time rally winner set the target time of 10min 48.1sec and edged into a 5.5-second advantage over Al-Rajhi, with Khaled Al-Qassimi a close third. Al-Rajhi caught the dust of Sheikh Abdullah Al-Qassimi and was granted a three-minute starting gap for the second special, despite puncturing two tyres. It was proof he had been at ‘full attack’.

Al-Kuwari and Al-Suwaidi were fourth and fifth, but Kuwait’s Meshari Al-Thefiri dropped six minutes to the leaders and Jordan’s Zaid Dahshan retired with fuel pump issues at the end of the stage.

The 24km of the new Umm Wishah stage followed and Al-Attiyah reached the flying finish in 11min 58.1sec, but he was pegged back by a flying Al-Qassimi in the works Citroën. Al-Rajhi was even quicker and a stunning time by the Saudi pushed him into the overall lead. Turkey’s Burcu Cetinkaya crashed her Mitsubishi and managed to continue, but rear axle problems accounted for Edith Weiss.

Crews had feared the outcome of the third 25km Al-Karaana stage after the recce. The last few kilometres were particularly rocky and no-one intended to risk their cars on this section.

The special came back to bite Al-Rajhi: he damaged a wheel and the front suspension in the stage and was forced out of the running, as Al-Qassimi maybe took one too many risks himself and escaped with a midday lead of 4.3 seconds over a more cautious Al-Attiyah.

Al-Suwaidi completed SS3 with a broken drive shaft sustained at the end of stage two and punctures were commonplace, with Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari destroying the right-hand rear of his car after a tyre disintegrated and Alaa Rasheed damaging several tyres.

“It was just not worth pushing hard in there,” said Al-Attiyah. “Yazeed had his problem, Khalid damaged the front of his car, it was a matter of getting through safely.”

Cetinkaya pulled out at the service point: “I rolled one time and landed on the side of the car in the second stage and carried on but I should have stopped there and gone for SupeRally,” said Cetinkaya. “Instead I did another stage and had more problems with tyres and lost more time.”

The three stages were repeated in the heat of the afternoon over deteriorating track surfaces and Al-Attiyah attacked and shaved over 16 seconds off his first run through the Al-Shabhana stage. He beat Al-Qassimi by 7.2 seconds and moved into a 2.9-second lead, as Al-Kuwari and Al-Suwaidi held third and fourth overall.

A repeat of Umm Wishah was next up and Al-Qassimi was quickest again by 5.8 seconds to retake the overall lead from Al-Attiyah by just 2.9 seconds. Al-Kuwari also beat Al-Attiyah to retain a solid third place, but Alaa Rasheed lost fifth position and retired after a series of puncture-related incidents.

The second run through Al-Karaana was treacherous and Al-Attiyah emerged with the quickest time to hold an overnight lead of 4.8 seconds.

Saturday

Teams tackle the final six special stages in the deserts to the west of Doha on Saturday. Regularly used on the event in recent years, competitors have praised these stages for being smoother and easier to read than those used on day one.

Action gets underway with the first of two runs through the QMMF stage at 09.38hrs and this is followed by Mekaines at 10.11hrs and Salwa at 10.39hrs. A regroup and midday service is planned at the Qatar Aqua Park from 11.09hrs and the three specials are repeated at 12.22hrs, 12.55hrs and 13.23hrs. The podium will take place outside the QMMF in Doha from 15.30hrs.

2013 Qatar International Rally – timetable of events
Saturday, January 26

09.38hrs SS7 QMMF 1
10.11hrs SS8 Mekaines 1
10.39hrs SS9 Salwa 1
11.09hrs Regroup and Service E, Qatar Aqua Park
12.22hrs SS10 QMMF 2
12.55hrs SS11 Mekaines 2
13.23hrs SS12 Salwa 2
15.30hrs Podium finish, QMMF

Positions after SS6 – end of leg 1 (unofficial @ 15.55hrs):
1. Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah (QAT)/Giovanni Bernacchini (ITA) Ford Fiesta 1hr 11min 35.4sec
2. Khalid Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Scott Martin (GBR) Citroën DS3 1hr 11min 40.2sec
3. Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Killian Duffy (IRL) Ford Fiesta 1hr 14min 12.4sec
4. Khalid Al-Suwaidi (QAT)/Nicola Arena (ITA) Ford Fiesta 1hr 15min 47.8sec
5. Abdullah Al-Qassimi (UAE)/Steve Lancaster (GBR) Ford Fiesta 1hr 22min 31.6sec
6. Abdullah Al-Kuwari (QAT)/Khalid Al-Kendi (UAE) Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 30min 37.7sec
7. Majed Al-Shamsi (UAE)/John Higgins (IRL) Subaru Impreza 1hr 32min 07.1sec
8. Michele de Nora (ITA)/Sergio Secchi (ITA) Subaru Impreza 1hr 35min 43.9sec
9. Bader Al-Jabri (UAE)/Nicolas Klinger (FRA) Subaru Impreza 1hr 36min 25.7sec
10. Mohamed Al-Mutawaa (UAE)/Stephen McAuley (GBR) Citroën DS3 R3 1hr 36min 43.7sec
11. Meshari Al-Thefiri (KWT)/Mubarak Al-Thefiri (KWT) Mitsubishi Lancer 1hr 45min 59.3sec

Ends

Neil Perkins, NDP Publicity Services, chief media officer, 2013 Qatar International Rally, Qatar Mobile: + 974 55485581, E-mail: ndppublicity@googlemail.com, www.ndp-publicity.com (press releases)

www.qmmf.com
www.merc-fia.com
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Date issued: 25/01/2013

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